The Coffin Artist

I know art can’t do shit,
and when budgets get cut
the arts are always on the block.
After the board meeting,
some teachers, students
and parents are left
to mutter “But, but, but.”
Some of us love the way
strings and words
and paint and clay
and leaps and light
can smooth a furrow, turn
a smile, and put a want right
there between the shoulder
and the belly button.
We would never make art
nothing but numbers
the way they do it
at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

I know life’s cheap,
and the poor will inherit a world
of trouble, worry and debt,
but there are always saints
among us like this coffin artist
who didn’t want the work
he’s doing this week:
meeting with the families
of murdered kids
and a murdered teacher
so he can make nineteen
works of art that will not
bring anyone back
and will not fetch a fortune.
Each one will show a little joy
and what was loved
by the body within,
and then will be lowered
into the ground and buried.

About the Poem

Not long after the massacre in Uvalde, TX, I saw an article about Trey Ganem, who customizes coffins for people. He was donating his work to any of the victims of the massacre. There was something that resonated with me about the power of art and generosity in the story.

About the Author

Matthew Murrey’s poems have appeared widely. His debut collection, Bulletproof, was published in 2019 by Jacar Press. Until June of this year, he was a public high school librarian for 21 years. He can be found online at and on Twitter and Instagram @mytwords.

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